Ok, I realise this post is almost a week late late...it's been too easy to get sidetracked by stuff. But I'm writing it now! That's good enough, right?
So me and Sam both made it back ok on Monday night; we are now both settled in again and stuff is getting back to normal. It's a bit strange because now I feel like I need a break and yet I've just been on holiday for a month. I suppose it wasn't your average holiday though!
This post is going to be all about our final day, explaining how the fuck we managed to get from Salzburg to England in less than a day and all the shit in between. I still struggle to understand how we did it. It was EPIC.
I'm going to start this main part now because there's gonna be plenty of this chatty bullshit afterwards. I've got to somehow find a way to conclude the whole 32 days of our trip. Not gonna be easy.
So put yourself in our sleep-deprived shoes in the early hours of Monday 25th at our hostel in Salzburg, and make yourself comfortable...there's a long journey ahead.
Me and Sam did not sleep.
I finished the previous blog post ('Surprises') at 2.50am, and our first train of this crazy journey was at 4.30am.
There was no point in sleeping. We still had to make sure we'd packed all of our stuff, had shower and done all the other last-minute things before leaving the hostel at 4am at the latest to make sure we got the train on time.
Who needs sleep anyway?
One minor complication in our plans was that we had one other person in our 4-bed dorm, who (sensibly, unlike us) was sleeping. For some reason we didn't think they'd appreciate loud noises and the occasional swear word at 3am in the morning.
So, while I was finishing the blog post, Sam went upstairs and moved every last bit of our stuff into the SHOWER ROOM of the hostel.
This probably sounds a bit fucked up, but it was actually a good idea.We were both planning on having showers, no one was going to be in there at that time, and also we wouldn't be disturbing the other person in our room.
Once I was done blogging, I came up from the lobby to the shower room and showered (Sam had already had his), and then we did our final bit of packing and organising.
I checked...and double-checked...and TRIPLE-checked with Sam that he hadn't left anything in the room. I didn't want to go back in there because that would have made noise, espcially as the only way to shut the door was to slam it. He said he hadn't, so we finished packing the last of our things - toiletries, dirty clothes and food for the journey.
We were all done by 3.50am, which was earlier than the deadline we made, so we headed down to reception and checked out (thank god for the 24-hour reception). Next stop: train station.
Even with all of our stuff on our backs, it only took us 10 minutes. We got some money out of a nearby cash machine (which made this eerie noise,...slightly ominous at this time of night) and then headed into the station.
We found the platform number from the departure board, and once we got up to the correct platform, the train was already sitting there.
This first leg of our journey was taking us to Munich, Germany, where we had to make our first change.
We realised shortly after getting on that it was a sleeper train. Which started off in Budapest (Hungary) and ended up in Munich. That's a long ride.
This made it a little bit difficult to find seats. It was one of those trains with the narrow corridors and compartments where the seats are, so basically we needed to find a compartment that was empty because people were sleeping in all the other ones.
We eventually found one, and soon after a young couple joined us in the compartment, probably because we were the only ones awake on the whole train.
And then we were off. We were officially on the way home.
Sam fell asleep prettty much instantly. Lucky bastard. To be fair I think I did nod off for about half an hour but it was pretty shit quality sleep. The journey was two hours long and for most of it everyone else in our compartment was asleep apart from me.
So for most of the journey I was just looking out the window at the new German countryside. It looked a lot like England from what I remember, actually.
So we got into Munich at about 6.30am.
And this is where things start to get more complicated.
In simple terms, we had to get to Paris. From here, it would be easy to get a train to Calais so that we could get the ferry back to England. To get from Munich to Paris, we knew we’d have to make a change, and from the options we’d researched, the most suitable place to change would be in Cologne. However, whatever way we took, we knew we’d have to reserve our seats at Munich station (we could no longer do the hop on hop off thing *sad face*).
So we headed for the ticket office in Munich, confident that it would be open seeing as all of the little pastry shops and cafés in the station were open (despite it being 6.30am!!).
As you can tell from the way I’ve led up to this, it wasn’t. But we didn’t have too long to wait because it opened at 7am, so we used to opportunity to have one each of the 8 cereal bars we had to last us the whole journey. In total, we had 4 apples, 8 cereal bars and about 10 biscuits between us for the journey, so we tried to be frugal with food.
While we were waiting at the ticket office, we noticed this big display thing going on in the station. Covering an area of about 15m x 10m were these large boards with massive photos on, which looked pretty amazing. The boards were arranged almost like a maze, facing different ways and creating little enclosed spaces in which you could be surrounded by the photos.
I thought that I might as well take a look (mainly to stop me from falling asleep, truth be told); Sam didn’t want to, so he looked after our rucksacks.
This was an incredible exhibition. The idea was that each little area of photos told a story – for example there was a section with photos about the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011; there was another about sharks and how they are being killed extensively for their fins, and there was one about the recent Egyptian revolution. Each of the photos had a caption of about 100 words which explained how the photo fitted in with the context of the story.
The result: some mind-blowing shit going on there. It really opened your eyes to stuff.
The whole idea was brilliant. There’s almost no better way to put across information to the general public than by using images, with only a few words. That way it is certainly not boring, but is definitely powerful. So this was a nice little detour at 6.30am in the morning.
You could spend a few hours looking through the whole display, so while I was entranced Sam called for me to come over to the ticket office as we approached 7am.
The ticket office we were waiting at opened shortly after, and a German man appeared from behind the closed blinds. We asked him if he spoke English, and he said yes, so that was a good start.
We asked if we could reserve two seats for the 7.28am train to Cologne with our InterRail passes. The guy said yes and did some typey-typey stuff on his computer.
“I’m sorry, for the train to Cologne, there are no more seats available for people with InterRail passes.”
This was really not good news.
Last night, we wrote out every stage of the journey and all the possible options in case things went wrong. In the end, everything boiled down roughly four ferries from Calais to Dover – the 6.50pm, 7.55pm, 8.35pm and the 9.45pm. If we wanted to get home safely today, we knew that we’d have to catch one of these four ferries.
Because all of the trains leading up to the ferry journey were so intricately planned and finely balanced, one small change to our original plan could be severely limiting in terms of the ferries we could take to get back.
So the Cologne option was no longer possible – we couldn’t even get a later train there.
The next option, which was the other one we were considering for getting to Paris, involved changing at Stuttgart. So we asked the ticket office man to see if there were seats available on the next train there.
No luck. For fuck’s sake. These were our two main options that we’d talked about before. We were now going into unknown territory.
We explained to the guy that we needed to get to Paris as early as possible, so we asked if he could look at any other options for travelling from Munich to Paris. He said he’d try, but didn’t look very optimistic.
This was a pretty tense moment. If we couldn’t get a train to Paris there was no chance of getting home today, and we didn’t fancy staying outside another station during the night again. Not only that, but we had very little money (keep reading to find out more about our money woes…), so if we didn’t get home today things were about to get very difficult.
We told the guy what time we needed to be in Paris by, and all of the options he was coming up with weren’t working. This wasn’t looking good.
And then he found something.
I’d never heard of this place before today but he was saying it with a positive tone of voice so I presumed it was a good thing.
He told us that we could get an 9.28pm train to Mannheim, do a 1-hour change there and then we would be in Paris by 4.50pm.
Wait what?! Where the fuck did this come from?! This journey was like better than the one we’d originally planned! How did he find it?
We checked over all the details, and he printed out our tickets. Not only that, but our reservation fees weren’t expensive, which was crucial considering how little money we had left.
And that was it! Out of nothing, we somehow had a route home. We breathed a sigh of relief.
The only problem was…we had like 2 hours to wait in Munich for our train to Mannheim.
Going outside wasn’t really an option….it was FUCKING FREEZING. Probably the coldest we’d been on our trip. It was grey, windy and wet, so staying in the station was our only real option.
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any benches around. We found some in this room which had loads of information desks which might have also done ticket sales, but it looked like they were specifically for the people waiting for information. What emphasised this fact was the fact that they were red leather sofas which we like the most comfortable thing I’ve ever sat on.
So what did we do? Go in and sit on the sofas, of course.
To make sure that we didn’t get moved on at all, I pretended that I was looking at our tickets and all of our InterRail information. But we just really needed to sit down.
I had to keep up the charade while Sam went off in search of a free toilet (we couldn’t waste any money!). This was a bit awkward seeing as I had to look after two rucksacks and a further carrier bag, but I somehow managed it without anyone really paying any attention to me.
Once Sam got back, we thought we might as well use the time to look at the photo exhibition again. I’d only seen about a quarter of it and Sam hadn’t seen any, so it seemed like a good way to pass the time.
Normally the trains arrive in the platform early, so we headed round there about 25 minutes before the train was due to leave. It wasn’t there, but Sam decided to stay on the platform just in case it did arrive. Meanwhile I went back to the photo exhibition.
When it was 15 minutes until the train left, I went back to the platform. There was still no train there, so we just assumed that it was going to arrive at the time on the board.
But it got to ten minutes after this time and there was still no train. Why, of all the days in the trip, did THIS train have to be late.
We walked up the platform a bit to get closer to the screen, and it said that it was going to be 10 minutes late. 5 minutes later, it went up to 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes.
They like doing this in Europe. They say the train is delayed by factors of 5 minutes until the train arrives. For example, if a train was 23 minutes late, on the board it would say 5 minutes, then 10, then 15, then 20, and then it would arrive. They can’t just say it’s going to be 23 minutes late so everyone can go and get something to eat or do something remotely productive rather than standing around on a platform where it’s like -10 degrees.
Our train ended up being about 25 minutes late, which was quite lucky in the end because we had an hour to make our connection in Mannheim so it didn’t affect the journey much at all.
Luckily, we were in a 2-seater, so that was good. Sam slept for most of the way while I listened to music. It was a pretty average journey; if anything interesting happened I was probably too tired to commit it to memory.
We arrived in Mannheim and headed into the main station area. One thing that struck us was how many little bakery-type places there were. It wasn’t a massive station, and yet there must have been about10-15 of these little shops. I suppose it was lucky that we couldn’t afford anything because I think their cakes and pastries would have been too tempting not to buy, especially for Sam…
There was one quite important thing that we needed to do here though. We’d been sent some money from the Bank of Mum just to make sure that we had enough to get home ok, but last time we checked it hadn’t got through to our debit card. This was pretty worrying because we knew that the ferry from Calais to Dover would cost £59 (roughly 73 euros) and we weren’t even sure we had this much. Not forgetting that we still had to reserve seats on our train from Paris to Calais, which would probably cost almost 18 euros.
We had to go out of the station to get to a nearby cash machine (this at least made us feel that we’d kind of visited a bit of Germany, seeing as we weren’t just stuck inside the train station) and tried our luck.
We couldn’t even withdraw 10 euros.
The money hadn’t come through. We only had what was in Sam’s wallet to last us for the journey home.
The least we could do was get as close to home as possible and in the worst case scenario, stay overnight at either Paris or Calais train station and wait to see if the money came through tomorrow.
So we waited for and got on our train to Paris.
Again we were in a 2-seater, but this time there were some annoying people behind us. I couldn’t get to sleep as usual, but Sam could, so he didn’t have to listen to that bullshit. So I drowned everything out with music.
It was quite a nice journey in terms of scenery. The journey before had some good views but it was all quite similar and not too different from an English landscape, but this journey was interesting, especially around the Germany/France border.
It’s not quite as fun when some little bitch behind you is telling the person next to him (who clearly isn’t interested by the way) about everything that he could feast his eyes upon – the architecture, the landscape etc. He was worse than Sam in terms of the architecture. And he might have been very knowledgeable, but what it all boils down to is that he was an absolute cock and I don’t know why he felt the need to…live. Thank god that my noise-cancelling headphones are also bullshit-cancelling.
We got into Paris Est station at 4.50pm and then rushed. We needed to get to Paris Gare du Nord for our train to Calais, which conveniently was only one stop on the metro.
From Gare du Nord, the next trains that we could get to Calais were the 5.15pm (which was ideal and would get us in nice and early) and the 6.15pm. Despite having to go to the ticket office at Gare du Nord to reserve our seats, we still thought we’d try and get this train because even if we missed it, we had the one afterwards if we needed it.
We had to queue up for metro tickets, then check what line and stuff we had to travel on, and then find our train. This took longer than we thought.
When we finally arrived at Gare du Nord, we only had about 5 or 10 minutes if we wanted to get the 5.15pm train.
This wouldn’t have been manageable if we tried to reserve our seats too, so we decided to go to the platform where the train was and ask someone if it was completely, unequivocally necessary that we reserve seats to travel.
We found a really helpful man, and he told us that as InterRail holders we had to reserve, but he said that trains to Calais usually only cost £3 each to reserve, so we could go and do that at the ticket office and then get the next train.
We went to the ticket office, where the queue looked like a 20-minute wait (not too bad compared to some we’ve been in) and waited for our turn.
We were eventually served by a woman who could speak English (sensibly they had little flags above their desks showing which languages they could speak) and we told her what we wanted to do.
This is another time where I have some explaining to do. In Calais, there are two main stations – Calais-Ville (the station nearest to the centre of town and also only a 30-minute walk to the ferry port) and Calais Frethun (which is the stop for the Eurostar in Calais, which is situated about 2 miles south-west of the centre of town). We were obviously looking for trains to Calais-Ville so that we could get to the ferry port as quickly as possible, so we wanted to book the 6.15pm train to there.
But when we told the woman what we wanted to do and she did some stuff on her computer, she said something about it not being available or that there was no 6.15pm train direct to Calais-Ville, which is what I'd seen when I looked at timetables online. What the fuck?
She told us about a train to Calais Frethun at about 5.45pm which got into Calais at about 7.30pm. This would have been good, apart from the fact that CALAIS FRETHUN IS NOWHERE NEAR THE FUCKING FERRY PORT.
Our doubts were premature, though, because this woman thought of something quite obvious that we didn't even consider.
In fact, it's REALLY obvious. We were so stupid.
We could get a train from Calais Frethun to Calais-Ville, and then get to the ferry port from there as planned.
She searched on her computer to see if there was a train to Calais-Ville around the time that we were getting in to Calais Frethun, and sure enough there was. We had 8 minutes to make the change at Calais Frethun but we knew the station wouldn't be very big so it would be easy to make the change.
So suddenly everything fell into place.
We would get into Calais-Ville at about 7.30pm, and we could then get the 8.35pm ferry back to Dover. We'd heard that there was a shuttle bus from Calais-Ville to the ferry port that went quite regularly, but even if there wasn't it takes less than 30 minutes to walk there so we would be fine. The only issue would be whether we had enough money for the ferry - more on that in a bit.
So we reserved our seats for these two trains - Paris to Calais Frethun and Calais Frethun to Calais Ville. The woman said that the train was already in the station and helpfully she gave us the platform number, so we headed over to it and hopped on the train.
We were in another 2-seater (yay) and it was a very comfortable train. The people were also really quiet so that was a nice change.
So the journey took a little under two hours. A lot of you have probably seen what the view is like on this journey if you've ever been to Paris on the Eurostar. Quite nice countryside; quite samey; quite similar to England.
While on this train, me and Sam examined our financial situation.
It looked like we were going to be a few euros off what we needed to buy the ferry tickets, and even more so if we had to pay for the shuttle bus (providing that it actually existed). We thought this would be the case. And we'd already thought about what we were going to do about it.
The first scenario: We get to the ferry port and check to see if, by some miracle, the money that Mum sent us is on the card. It is. We get on the ferry and we all live happily ever after.
The second scenario: We get to the ferry port and there is still no money on the card. We check to see how much the tickets cost in euros and, incredibly, our calculations are wrong and we can afford the tickets. See end of scenario 1.
The third scenario: We get to the ferry port, there is no money on the card and we cannot afford tickets. Life is a pile of crap. We search desperately for money on the floor, but before that, we ask people at the ferry port if they can lend us enough money to get our tickets, and then exchange details with them so that we can pay them back when we get back to England.
Yes, actually ASKING strangers for money was a real possibility.
What else could we do? And if the amount we needed was quite small and we gave them our details, we thought people might be willing to help us.
So these were, as far as we knew, our only options. Oh, apart from actually not getting a ferry today and staying at the ferry port for the night.
Towards the end of the journey to Calais, however, we thought about contacting Mum. We obviously didn't have wifi, and also annoyingly my phone was practically dead, but Sam still had his iPhone. Ok, it would cost him gazillions of pounds just to connect to the French network because of data charges, but it was worth it if we could do something useful.
We tried to send a text to Mum using my phone but it died after the first few words. So Sam took a deep breath and connected to the French network.
We described our situation and what our options were. We thought this was all we could do. But then, when Mum texted back, she'd come up with a great idea.
Perhaps she could book the ferry tickets online for us, and then when we get to the ferry port, all we'd have to do would be to quote our booking number or whatever and then we would be on the way home.
She said she was on the case, so all we could do was wait.
Our train got in to Calais Frethun, and fortunately our train to Calais-Ville would arrive on the platform next to us so we didn't even have to move anywhere.
In the 8-minute gap between our trains, Sam decided to call Mum to see what the situation was.
It was looking GOOD.
She'd managed to find a phone number for P&O Ferries for booking tickets (considering that the ferry was leaving very soon, booking the tickets online might have been a bit risky - what if didn't go through?). Sam called her just before she was about to call them.
So we hung up, and then got on our train to Calais-Ville when it arrived.
And during this 10-minute train journey, we got the fateful text.
"All done. Booking reference is (blahblahblahblah), all you need to do is quote it and show your passports."
WE'RE COMING HOME.....TODAY!!!!!!!
This was such a relief. How we got away with what we did I do not know. But it worked.
We still needed to get to the ferry port though, and when we got off at Calais-Ville we looked around for signs of a shuttle bus or at least a stop for it.
We couldn't see anything immediately, but we did see another bus. Sam went in and asked the driver if he went to the ferry port or if there were any buses that did, and the driver told him that there wasn't.
So was the whole shuttle bus thing just an online joke to make people's lives hell or did someone genuinely believe that that shit existed?
It looked like we were going to have to walk there, but then we saw some taxis. And we realised it made sense to get one, because now we didn't have to buy our ferry tickets we weren't going to be spending any more money, and we still had like 70 euros.
The driver spoke pretty good English and was friendly. He told us that it would cost us about 12 euros to go to the ferry port, which was fine for us, so we jumped in.
We were so close!!!
It was a nice little drive which only took about ten minutes, and when we got out at the ferry port we gave the driver a generous tip and walked to the ticket office.
There were a couple of desks for people who had already made bookings, so we queued up there, but for some reason no one was taking any notice of us there so we asked at the ticket sales desk if we they dealt with bookings too. They said they did, so we went there, showed them our passports and gave them our booking reference, and they gave us the tickets for the ferry.
Next stop: departure lounge. Via mega security checks.
We had our bags x-rayed and our passports checked again, but we got through that without much hassle.
We then had our passports checked for a third time, before finally getting to the depature lounge and a place to sit down.
It was about 8pm at this point. We'd made it, and with plenty of time to spare.
Perhaps too much time, though, because an announcement then said that the ferry was delayed until 8.55pm, so we were waiting around for quite a while.
It was nice though. We almost felt like we were at home already.
The water we'd filled our bottles up with tasted chalky, which was a nice reminder of how close we were to the Kent coast.
To pass the time, we ate our remaining cereal bars and talked about a really annoying woman with her child in the departure lounge.
And then we were ready to board.
After having our tickets checked, we got on a little bus to the ferry. There weren't many foot passengers - there were only about 10 of us at most on the bus. We then walked through one of those tunnel-walkway things to get onto the ferry.
Soon enough, the propellers started and we were moving!
The journey takes 1 hour 30 minutes in total, but as you cross between time zones it actually ends up taking 30 minutes, which is nice.
Towards the end of the journey, we looked to see if there was any deck at the front of the ferry, but the only deck space was at the back. So we went back to where we were at the front of the boat on the inside to watch our approach into Dover.
There was a lovely sunset, which we unfortunately didn't get any photos of, but that made reaching England even more satisfying.
And then we stopped. We'd made it!
We were actually the last to leave the boat because we had to wait for all the vehicles to unload first. But we did, and we got a text from Mum telling us where to meet her. We had no idea where this place was, only that it was around the ferry port, so we just followed the masses and hoped for the best.
We got on another little bus which took us to the main ferry building, and here we were expecting to have to go through some ridiculous security checks where we would have to empty our bags out and stuff. I hate all that rigorous security shit, so I was constantly telling Sam how much I despise it and how I thought we should just say "Hi, we haven't got any drugs, thanks" and just walk through. Although somehow I think that might not have gone down well.
But there was no security.
Ok, well that's a bonus.
There was someone waiting for us though. Mum!
We went through all the hugging and photo-taking stuff. Sam also layed down on the ground to hug the British soil, as you do.
We then all got in the car and off we went, back towards home!!
We stopped off and got a Chinese takeaway before we got home. We were all really hungry and this seemed like the best option. It was fucking AMAZING.
And then, finally, at about 10.15pm, WE WERE HOME. Better late than never.
Our trip was complete. We'd done it.
So that was it. The final day.
It was pretty tense at times, but when you think about it, it's actually amazing what we did.
This journey is almost 1000 miles long. And we managed to do it in around 18 hours.
And I suppose it would be appropriate now to show you a map of our whole trip.
This is quite rough, and the points where there are double lines are times when we used the same train line twice.
It's so strange seeing the journey like this.
And in a way it doesn't actually mean that much because it was our experiences in the places that we stayed that were the most important and the memories that we will always keep with us. Travelling was just a way of getting to the different places.
But there it is.
I am planning on doing a few more blog posts after this one, with statistics, facts and funny stuff about the WHOLE trip. I think you're going to like it. I've got some great ideas...at least I think I do.
But I need a break from blogging.
It's actually quite hard work. I love it, and it was one of the things that made the trip such a great experience, but my brain is tired.
So you can look forward to that, and I will make sure that all of you know when I do post. But do not expect it too soon!
Everything is still a little bit surreal. Not so much now, after almost being back for a week, but definitely in the first few days after we got back.
I've never been away from home this long, and I could tell. It's almost confusing to see places that you recognise; places that you actually have memories of rather than ones you want to explore.
They say that travelling helps you to appreciate what you have on your own doorstep, and although I thought this would be the case even before the trip, I can certainly see now how this works.
Me and Sam are doing well (although I haven't actually spoken to Sam for a couple of days, but let's just assume he's fine). I think we both agree that when the trip ended, we were both ready to come back home. It's not that we weren't enjoying our experiences, it's just that we'd had our fun and we'd had the right amount of time exploring new places, and then it was time to come back.
I think if you spend too long travelling without coming home, you don't appreciate things as much...it can become a bit samey. But I think a month was perfect, and I know that when I look back on this I will have very fond memories.
Travelling also is an escape from your problems, either deliberately or not. And when you come back, you have to deal with those problems again; you're back in the same place you were before you went away. But if you stay away for too long, nothing gets solved and shit gets fucked up. So it's important to have a FUCKING INCREDIBLE time like we did in the time that you do spend away, and then be ready to start things afresh when you get back, without being too handicapped by what you've just done. And that way you give yourself the best chance of having a good time when you back too.
So this is it! The last blog post for the actual trip!
Sharing our experiences with you has been the best thing. SO FUCKING GOOD. This blog has helped me (and hopefully you) to appreciate the places that we visited in ways that I didn't think we would. I have had an incredible time, so thank you so so much for reading this and making me feel appreciated. Like I said in the very first blog post, I've never done anything like this before because I haven't opportunity, and this trip, as well as you people reading the blog, have helped me to experience something new and utterly brilliant. Thank you!!!
So I will post again when the time is right, and I will let you all know when I do.
I can't believe this is it.
Until next time...
Jack - 1/7/12 - 16:18 in the MOTHERFUCKING UK